Lockheed offers USAF 120 more C-130Js

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Lockheed Martin is proposing to build 120 more C-130J airlifters for the US Air Force to preserve its 50-year-old production line at least through 2015, even as the Airbus Military A400M emerges as a potential competitor for US sales.

Lockheed's unsolicited offer seeks USAF support to deliver 24 C-130Js a year between 2011 and 2015. If accepted, the new multi-year proposal would reduce overall costs by 10% compared with annual orders, according to the manufacturer. "We look forward to working with our customer to finalise all details necessary for a contract award," it says.

The C-130 has been in production since the 1950s and the most recent version - the C-130J - entered service with the UK Royal Air Force in the mid-1990s. Lockheed's current multi-year production contract will expire in fiscal year 2008, although the US Department of Defense asked for additional aircraft in supplemental budget requests earlier this year.

Lockheed's offer to build 24 aircraft a year may evolve to include a certain amount of foreign orders. Loren Thompson, a defence analyst for the Lexington Institute, published an essay on 30 October, saying the "lowest cost" option would be a USAF order for 16 aircraft a year, augmented by export sales.

However, USAF officers have raised the A400M as a potential option for replacing early model C-130s. Airbus Military showcased a model of the European transport at the Air Force Association's annual convention in Washington DC in September.